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Dragon's Milk

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It's not exactly a secret that I love me some bourbon barrel aged beers, so it will come as no surprise that I really enjoyed this offering from Michigan's New Holland Brewery. Maybe I've got a problem, but there's just something magical that happens when you put beer into a bourbon barrel for aging. I just love the added richness of flavor, complexity, and thick, chewy mouthfeel that comes with the territory.

Dragon's Milk is aged in old Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels for at least 90 days. As previously discussed, this is partially due to the fact that the legal definition of Bourbon says that the whiskey must be aged on new oak, leading to a big secondary market of used oak barrels that brewers can latch onto. But apparently New Holland can only use those secondary Bourbon barrels once to age beer. "Second-use barrels don't give the beer the same character," says New Holland's Brett VanderKamp.

But this is where things get really intriguing. New Holland also runs a small, artisanal spirits business, and they've started to use their old Dragon's Milk barrels to age their whiskey... Consider my mind blown. What a great idea. When I was in line for Dark Wednesday, some beer nerds and I discussed the possibilities of this very thing (aging whiskey in beer barrels). I didn't think it would happen so soon, but it's a welcome development. This is apparently still in the prototyping phase, though both Jim and Don from the Beer and Whisky Brothers managed to get a hold of some of the stuff. The verdict: everyone seems to love it. It seems something magical happens when you put whiskey in a beer barrel for aging. I absolutely need to get my hands on some of this stuff.

In the meantime, I'll have to make do with some regular old Bourbon barrel aged beer:

New Holland Dragons Milk

New Holland Dragon's Milk - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a small amount of tan head. Smells fantastic. Lots of roasted malt, caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, bourbon, and oak in the nose. Taste starts off very sweet, rich flavors of caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, light bourbon and oak. Just a hint of roasted malts. Mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, perfectly balanced richness and carbonation. Goes down surprisingly easy, maybe a bit of alcohol warming when you drink quickly, but it still doesn't feel as strong as it is... Overall, fantastic beer! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 6/1/12.

I have no idea if and when this beer barrel bourbon will be available, but if I get a chance to try some, I'll be sure to let you know. In any case, my consumption of barrel aged beers will probably continue to be unhealthily high. Summer seems a little less barrel-agey, but don't worry, I'm sure I'll be hitting up plenty of interesting stuff in the coming weeks.

Art of Darkness

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What's with the rash* of Joseph Conrad references in beer names? First came the beer I'm reviewing, Ommegang's Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Art of Darkness (despite all their wizardly references to spellbinding and mystical incantations, we know they're referencing Conrad, right?) Then, more recently, The Bruery released Tart of Darkness, a sour stout aged in barrels. What's next? Clown Shoes making a beer called Fart of Darkness, that's what. Okay, that was a cheap shot, so let's move on...

Ommegang was my first introduction to really good beer (many moons ago), so I'm always on the lookout for new beers from them. However, one of the weird things about Ommegang is just how fantastic their core stable of beers is. In contrast to most other breweries, their core lineup is pretty much all great beers (with a potential exception in the recently added BPA). Oddly, their one-off limited-edition brews tend to be a bit on the underwhelming side. This isn't to say that they're bad, just that they're not as transcendent as, say, Three Philosophers. A few of the limited edition brews have struck a nerve though, notably Gnomegang and Tripel Perfection, so I feel like my compulsion to try their new stuff is not unwarranted. So here we go:

Ommegang Art of Darkness

Ommegang Art of Darkness - Pours a very dark brown color with plenty of dark tan head. Smells of bready Belgian yeast. A little spiciness apparent, but also something lighter, almost fruity. Taste is sweet, some dark malt character, but not much in the way of roast. Plenty of yeasty spiciness though, and the sweetness gives way in the dry finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied but highly carbonated, almost effervescent, and relatively dry, making this go down easy. No indication of booze at all, which is interesting given the ABV. Overall, very nice, well balanced beer! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 6/9/12. Bottled on 02/27/12. Best by 02/2015.

So where does this fit in? I'd say, towards the top of Ommegang's limited edition brews, if not quite the pinnacle. Quite enjoyable though, and well worth a try. Up next from Ommegang, a rather old limited edition brew I've been squirreling away in the basement for, sheesh, has it been two years? We'll see. And I've been seeing this Biere D'Hougoumont all over the place too, and I'm betting I'll get me a bottle of the stuff at some point.

* As recently established, it only takes two examples to constitute a "rash" of something.

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

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Back when my beer nerdery was going into overdrive (let's say 2009ish), I saw a few bottles of this at the store and balked at the high price tag ($8 for a 12 ounce bottle). Little did I know that I wouldn't even see another bottle of the stuff for two years (this delay was apparently exacerbated by a bad batch that had to be dumped, as portrayed on the short-lived Brewmasters tv show). So when Dogfish Head started releasing the new batch last year, I jumped on the opportunity. I had some on tap and picked up a few bottles, price tag be damned*!

I don't always love Dogfish Head's wacky shenanigans, but I usually find their stuff interesting and worth a shot. And say what you will about their shameless gimmickry, but Dogfish Head knows what it's doing when it comes to IPAs, and their "minute" series is a sorta rite of passage amongst hopheads around here. I've already talked about the history of the massive 120 Minute IPA, but one thing I never quite understood was the beer nerds' dismissal of this beer when it's still "young", claiming that it's "undrinkable" unless it's been aging for at least two years. When I had it on tap, I had no idea what these dorks were talking about, but now that I've cracked one of my bottles, I may have an idea what they mean (even if "undrinkable" is an overstatement).

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA - Pours a beautiful, mostly clear golden orange color with a finger of white head. The smell is filled with caramel malt and a ton of hoppy citrus notes. The taste is very sweet, plenty of that rich caramel malt going on and again with the citrusy hop character, but not a ton of bitterness. What there is a ton of, though, is alcohol. Very boozy stuff, moreso than I remember from last time, though it's not undrinkable or anything, just different. Mouthfeel is full bodied, almost chewy, and again, there's a very boozy heat here. This is actually pretty easy to drink, but it's still just a sipping beer due to the booze. Overall, a very complex, interesting beer that's well worth seeking out. Like last time, I find it hard to rate something this weird and experimental, but for now I'll give it a B+, a slight downgrade, but I have a few more bottles of the stuff in my cellar, so we'll see how this ages. I think that age would mellow all that booze out a bit, making this a much better beer...

Beer Nerd Details: 18% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 6/2/12. 2011 vintage.

I've got two more of these 2011 vintage bottles that will most likely sit in my cellar for those two years (or more) the nerds were talking about. This is generally made easier by the fact that it's such a high ABV beer. I'm looking forward to it, as well as the bottle of 2010 World Wide Stout I've got sitting around (another 18% monster). Alas, most of Dogfish Head's recent releases have not seemed very attractive to me...

* Is it sad that I now find this to be only moderately priced? Still, I probably made the right decision when I was in my beer nerd infancy, as I don't know if I would have appreciated it as much as I do now...

Lost Abbey Deliverance

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How is it possible that I've only had (and reviewed) two Lost Abbey beers since starting this blog? I'm really at a loss to explain this. I love me some Belgian style beers, and there are only a few American breweries that really specialize in that realm, so I'm not sure about the cause of my neglect. It's not like the stuff isn't readily available in my area, so I figure I should rectify this situation before the beer dork police knock down my door and confiscate my beer.

Lost Abbey shares its facilities (and staff, including head brewer Tomme Arthur) with Port Brewing and in a very real sense, they're simply two different approaches taken by the same brewery. Lost Abbey is inspired by the monastic brewing traditions of Belgium, but since no actual Abbeys were harmedinvolved in the production of the beer, they called it a "Lost" Abbey. They've got quite a good reputation and a large catalog of beers that, again, I should really become better acquainted with...

And this looks to be a spectacular start - a blend of two other beers: bourbon barrel-aged Serpent's Stout and brandy barrel-aged Angels Share (I've had the bourbon barrel-aged Angel's Share on tap before, and loved it, even if I thought it was a bit hot).

Lost Abbey Deliverance

Lost Abbey Deliverance - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a practically non-existent head. The nose is full of caramel, oak, and vanilla, with plenty of booze - the bourbon and brandy are apparent. The taste delivers what the nose promises. Caramel, oak, vanilla, brandy, bourbon, and booze, booze, booze. Mouthfeel is smooth, thick, and chewy, barely carbonated... but there's enough to make it palatable. Lots of hot booze and warming alcohol character, making this a beer I want to sip and savor slowly. Overall, a wonderful beer, perhaps even better than the simple Bourbon Barreled Angel's Share (though that may be more due to the age or bottling than the blend). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 5/27/12. 2011 vintage.

I actually have a bottle of the bourbon barrel-aged Angel's Share in the cellar. Given that I found it a bit "hot" on the first go around, I thought I'd give it some more time in the cellar. In the meantime, I certainly have a lot of other Lost Abbey beers to get through, so while I don't currently have any in the pipeline, I'll almost certainly be hitting some up this summer.

YuleSmith Summer Holiday Ale

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In an effort to confuse and confound their customers, Alesmith makes two different beers with the same name: YuleSmith Holiday Ale. One is a hoppy red ale released during the winter holidays, which makes a certain sorta sense. The other his a double IPA released in June, which... doesn't. The word "Yule" is derived from a Germanic winter festival that was absorbed by Christmas (like a lot of holiday traditions), so the summer one doesn't really fit unless you consider the dubious holiday of Christmas in July an event worth celebrating. And if you look at the bottle, it seems to be portraying the 4th of July, what with the fireworks and all (and Christmas in July is usually celebrated on the 25th of the month). Alesmith makes good beer though, and this one has quite the reputation, so who am I to complain?

Alesmith YuleSmith Summer

YuleSmith Summer Holiday Ale - Pours a hazy orange color with almost no head. A little worried about that, as the bottle didn't seem to have much pressure going on when I popped the cap. Aroma is very nice though, lots of pine and caramel malt character. The taste is sweet, caramel malts with a ton of resin and pine hop flavor coming out in the middle, and some citrusy goodness coming out to play a little too. That resin is the dominating flavor though, and it seems to be driving the bitterness in the finish. It's actually quite nice, and reminiscent of a lighter version of Alesmith's Old Numbskull (their barleywine). Mouthfeel is a little too light on the carbonation, as feared, and it comes off a little sticky, especially in the finish. The carbonation is at a cromulent level, but it could really use a little more of a kick in that respect. It gets better as it warms, but I'd still like to see some more carbonation in this. It's got the markings of a great beer, but it didn't quite get there even if it's certainly very good even like this. Truth be told, once I started drinking, the stuff went down awfully quick! B or B+ (I can't seem to make up my mind...)

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/3/12.

Looking closer at the bottle, the text on the back of the bottle sez that this is YuleSmith Holiday Ale 2011? This is actually printed in the description - there doesn't appear to be a bottled-on or best-by stamp on the bottle, so I don't know if this is actually from 2011 or if Alesmith just neglected to update the text on the back of the bottle this year. I wouldn't be surprised if I accidentally bought a year old bottle, as perhaps that would explain the carbonation issues...

Regardless, Alesmith continues to be one of the more interesting breweries out there, and I will most certainly be exploring more of their catalog!

Update: I have it on good authority that the bottle I had here actually was from 2011. Poop. But at least it explains some things about this beer...

Firestone Walker §ucaba

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What can I say, I'm a sucker for fancy-pants packaging. If you're a brewer and you want to trick me into buying your beer, here are a few tips: Cork and cage your beer (whether 375 or 750 ml, doesn't matter) or, if you don't want to do that, cover the cap with something. I actually don't really like the foil stuff, but some sort of cover works - wax-dipped bottles are quite attractive. I will say, most of the time, this makes it hard to open the beer, but for some reason, it makes it more attractive. Another trick: number the bottle, or put other meta-info on the label. Even if it's not limited, it will at least make me take notice. Finally, if you really want me to buy your beer, stick it in a box.

None of this stuff really means anything. The really important part is what's in the bottle, but there's something Pavlovian about a well-packaged beer. Firestone Walker's §ucaba certainly has a lot going for it in this manner. It's in a box. It says it's a "Special Limited Release". The label design is quite attractive. It's got all these fields on it for things like original gravity and IBU and whatnot; it's clearly printed up, but it looks sorta like a hand labeled beer, as if one of Firestone Walker's minions were forced to sit down with a pen and fill out labels for 3000 cases of beer (the label actually sez that's how many cases of this were produced). It's got a black plasticky thing around the cap. It's much nicer than foil caps as they have a really easy way to remove the wrapping from the cap (perhaps not as nice looking as wax dipped bottles, but again, easier to open).

Oh, and the beer inside is pretty awesome too. This beer was originally called Abacus, but due to some wine company owning that name, they had to change it. They settled on reversing the name and using the wacky section symbol (§) for the S, thus §ucaba. The origins of this beer go back to Firestone Walker's anniversary brews. Their initial anniversary batch consisted of a blend of a bunch of barrel-aged strong ales, specifically made for the anniversary beer. Eventually, they started releasing these component brews by themselves, and even bottling them, which is how I came to this beer, a barleywine aged in a variety of barrels (bourbon, wine, and retired Firestone-union barrels):

Firestone Walker Sucaba

Firestone Walker §ucaba - Pours a clear dark rubyish brown color with half a finger of quickly disappearing light colored head. The nose is filled with rich caramel, vanilla, oak, bourbon, maybe even a hint of vinous character. The taste is filled with perfectly balanced rich malts, caramel, vanilla, oak, bourbon, vinous flavors (not quite wine-like), and booze. Amazingly complex stuff. I keep discovering new flavors as I drink, and it evolves as it warms. And yet nothing overpowers anything else, it's really nice. Mouthfeel is smooth, rich, a little sticky... almost creamy. The booze is certainly there and you get that warming factor in your belly, but this is a beer to be savored slowly. Overall, this is an amazing beer. A complex, intense, but still balanced beer. Highly recommended if you can find some. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber, boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 5/25/12.

Firestone Walker continues to impress. I will always be on the lookout for their beers, and especially their Proprietor's Reserve Series (of which this is a part). I think I've even got some of their Union Jack in my fridge at the moment, so perhaps another review soon.

This beer is named after Danny Glover. No, not the actor we know and love (he's too old for this shit), just an unfortunate soul who worked at Tröegs for a short time. Not to be a downer, but he died in a car crash at the age of 24. Tröegs decided to brew a beer in honor of Danny, who seemed like an all-around great guy:

Even if Danny's arrival time for work was less than predictable and his uncanny ability to forget everything about his job overnight drove us nuts, he was a hard worker who would do any job with enthusiasm. But more importantly Danny had an infectious smile, a heart of gold and the absolute ability to spread joy through a room - it was hard not to love the guy.
A portion of the proceeds from this beer are being donated to the Gift of Life Organ Donation program, so good on Tröegs.

The beer itself is apparently a variant of Nugget Nectar, taken in the direction of an American Black Ale (or Black IPA or whatever you call that stuff), and it makes a fitting tribute.

Troegs Scratch 63 (Dannys IPA)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 63 (Danny's IPA) - Pours a dark brown color with a finger or two of tan colored head and some lacing as I drink. Smells full of citrusy hops with a little pine thrown in for good measure. While I don't get any roasty aromas, there is plenty in the taste. Taste starts with roasted malts, maybe even a bit of chocolate, before giving way a bit to the citrus and pine character of the hops. Not a ton of bitterness, but enough to balance all the flavors, and the roasted malts come out again in the finish as well. Mouthfeel is very much like an IPA. Well carbonated, but small bubbled and almost velvety. Overall, a very nice, well balanced version of the style. It's a difficult line to walk, but Tröegs has managed to do so with this beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/26/12.

Back during Philly Beer Week, I chatted with a guy who lived near the new Tröegs brewery in Hershey and he mentioned that most of the best Scratch series beers aren't bottled (and sell out quickly), but he agreed that this one was pretty good. Whatever the case, I'm always on the lookout for Tröegs Scratch beers...

Despite the fact that the IPA style seems to be my most reviewed style on the blog, I do find that you need to strike a bit of a balance with drinking them. At the extremes - drinking only IPAs all the time or barely drinking any - the style seems to get a bit... samey. But if you find the right balance, they can be a revelation. One of things that I've found most interesting about IPAs is drinking two of them back to back (I find diminishing returns after two though). This gives you an opportunity to compare and contrast, and if you choose your beers right, you can discover a huge variation in the style. So here we have two Founders IPAs, one their basic, year round Centennial, and the other being their souped up Double IPA. In some ways, this isn't really fair, as DIPAs generally pack in a lot more flavor, but it's still an instructive exercise.

Of course the point of these posts is to pair beer with movies, and in this case I took in a Walter Matthau double feature: Charley Varrick and Hopscotch. Both are fun little 70s and early 80s flicks about things like crooks and spies. Neither really blew me away, but I had a blast with my IPAs and viewing material...

Founders Centennial IPA

Founders Centennial IPA - Pours a cloudy orangish color with a finger of whitish head and plenty of lacing. The smell is filled with floral hops, maybe some sweet citrus too. The taste starts sweet, with some of that citrus character giving way to more pungent, spicy, and floral hop flavors, followed by a nice bitter bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is great, medium bodied, a little bit of a bite to it, but well carbonated. Overall, a very well crafted IPA. Unfortunately, Centennial hops don't seem to jive that well with me, at least in this formulation. I like this beer, but it's not my preferred IPA... B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/11/12.

Founders Double Trouble

Founders Double Trouble IPA - Pours a golden yellow color, lighter and a little more clear than the Centennial, with a finger of white head and plenty of lacing. Smells strongly of sweet hops, a ton of grapefruit character. At this point, I'm guessing Simcoe hops. Taste starts off sweet with an immediate bitter balance, both of which intensify through the middle, finishing with a little bit of extra bitter dryness. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with plenty of tight carbonation, and maybe just a hint of booziness. Overall, very nice, better than average double IPA, though not quite best in class. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.4% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/11/12.

As usual, Founders doesn't disappoint... and there's still quite a few of their beers that I haven't yet tried either. Nothing else in the immediate pipeline, but I'm sure we'll get our hands on some more of their beers at some point...

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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